Growing Koa: A Hawaiian Legacy Tree

growing koaLearning more about the wonderful koa tree is the kuleana (privilege and responsibility) of everyone who loves Hawai'i.

by Kim M. Wilkinson and Craig R. Elevitch

This easy to read, informative and inspiring book will show you how to:

  • Understand what happened to the koa forests
  • Plan for a successful koa planting
  • Gather seeds
  • Grow strong seedlings in the nursery
  • Plant seedlings in the ground
  • Take care of the trees as they grow
  • Foster the genetic diversity of this majestic tree for future generations

A great book for gardeners, landowners, educators, farmers, foresters, and conservationists!

This title is currently out of print.


Dedication by Hannah Kihalani Springer v
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction 1
Koa and Humans 2
What Happened to the Koa
Forests? 3
Koa Wood Today 5
Planting and Perpetuating Koa 6

About the Koa Tree 7
Variability 7
Koa’s Vital Role in Forest Fertility: Nitrogen Fixation 11
Other Native Hawaiian Nitrogen Fixing Trees 12
Environmental Preferences and Tolerances 12
How Big Do Koa Grow? 12
Some Ways People Plant Koa 13
Get Ready to Plant! 13

Planning 15
Who is the Planner? 15
Gathering Information 16
The Planning Process 17
Starting Small 21
Genetic Trials 23

Seeds 25
Genetic Quality 25
Selection Criteria 26
Picking 27
Drying 28
Storage 28

Nursery Practices 29
General Nursery Set-Up 30
Containers 30
Potting Media 31
Mycorrhizal Fungi 31
Getting Seeds to Sprout (Scarification) 32
Sowing 34
An Ancient Partnership: Rhizobia Bacteria and Koa 35
Restoring the Partnership 35
Rhizobia Strains 35
What Are Inoculants? 36
Nursery Care 40
Timing 43

Preparation 45
Protecting the Area 45
Preparing the Planting Site 47
Special Site Preparation 50
Marking the Planting Spots 50
Amending 50
Tree Planting 51
Timing 51
Transporting and Preparing the Seedlings 51

Planting Seedlings 52
Planting Large Koa Seedlings 54
Weed Barrier/Mulch 54
Replanting 55
A Few Guidelines to Keep in Mind 55

Management 57
Watering 57
Weed Control 57
Fertilization 58
Pruning 58
Thinning 59
Pests, Diseases, and Other Damaging Agents 59
Beyond Koa 62
Native Hawaiian Plants 63

Perspectives 65
Nainoa Thompson 65
Benton Keali‘i Pang 67
Candace Lutzow-Felling 69
Heidi Leianuenue Bornhorst 70
Patrick Baker 72
Bart Potter 74
J. B. Friday 78
Nick Dudley 79
Mel Johansen 80
Paul Scowcroft 81
Kelly Greenwell 81
Mark Kimball 82
Kanoa Kimball 83
Sally Rice 84
Ernest Pung 85
Peter D. Simmons 86
Roger G. Skolmen 86
Rob Pacheco 88

Resources 90
People 90
Recommended Reading 91
Agencies 93
Societies and Organizations 94
Trails and Hiking 96
Where to See Koa Trees 96
Web sites 96

References 97
About the Authors 101
About the Sponsors 102

Index 103


Growing Koa is a beautiful book, well written and organized. The illustrations show koa's remarkable diversity, both in the shape of the trees and leaves and also of the wood quality. The "state of the art" for growing koa is well presented, and the many areas where there are still unknown factors are also discussed.

J. B. Friday
Certified Forester®, Extension Forester
College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources
University of Hawaii at Manoa

It is a magnificent manual and will serve me well. Kudos on the excellent photography and the user friendly layout. I am most impressed with the quality of your seedling production and look forward to improving my own techniques through the guidance you have provided me. Your new publication has also provided me with new initiative in providing meaningful information and technology to the efforts focused on the conservation of Koa.

James Leary
Department of Molecular Biosciences and Biosystems Engineering
College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources
University of Hawaii at Manoa

The book is excellent. You have packed it with lots of useful information about the biology, growth, and care of koa trees. The many photographs illustrate and highlight the text very well and help to bring the information to life. The "Perspectives" chapter adds an important aspect to the information for it reflects the intricate and long-term relationship of people to koa trees and koa forest. The "Resources" section is also excellent, especially with the annotations. I am sure this section and your book as a whole will serve as a valuable guide for people interested in learning about and growing koa for years to come.

Candace Lutzow-Felling
Botany Department & EECB Program
University of Hawai'i

I love this book. It is an enjoyable read, encouraging and simplifying koa cultivation. It made me feel less intimidated by this majestic tree. I enjoyed reading about people who are growing and cultivating our native giant. With Growing Koa as a guide, I feel inspired and empowered to plant koa and to recommend it in plantings for my clients and my students.

Diana Duff
Educational Coordinator
Kona Outdoor Circle and
Hawaii Island Landscape Association

Author Biographies

Kim Wilkinson was co-editor of The Overstory, an international electronic agroforestry journal with subscribers in over 185 countries. For ten years she operated a reforestation nursery on Hawai'i Island that produced tens of thousands of koa trees annually. She has B.A. degrees in Anthropology and Ecology from Emory University, and is a Certified Permaculture Consultant (Tyalgum, Australia) and Master Gardener (University of Hawaii).

Craig Elevitch has worked in agroforestry design, management, and education since 1991. His projects focus on multipurpose trees that have economic, environmental, and cultural significance. He also directs Agroforestry Net, a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to empowering people in agroforestry and ecological resource management. The organization's internationally recognized publications have guided thousands of readers in developing agroforestry systems, ecological restoration, and reforestation on farms, ranches, homegardens, and conservation areas. Publications include Agroforestry Guides for Pacific Islands (2000), Traditional Trees of Pacific Islands: Their Culture, Environment, and Use (2006), Pathways to Abundant Gardens: A Pictorial Guide to Successful Organic Growing (2007), and Specialty Crops for Pacific Islands (2011).

Additional Information

Paperback: 112 pages
Full color: over 190 photographs
Format: 6" X 9"
Release date: January 2003
Publisher: Permanent Agriculture Resources
ISBN: 0970254423

For other inquiries or to purchase the book directly:

Permanent Agriculture Resources
P.O. Box 428
Holualoa, HI 96725 USA
Tel: 808-324-4427; Fax: 808-324-4129